Report: Boards Should Re-apply Focus on Long-term Value Creation

Report: Boards Should Re-apply Focus on Long-term Value Creation

The stock market is incredibly fickle.  In the short term, stock prices can swing significantly on such short-term news as:

  • What are reviewers saying about the newest, yet-to-be released iPhone?
  • Will Amazon use drones for shipping?
  • How many people in Latin America signed up for Netflix?

You get the drift. But for long-term investors there is quite a bit more to creating long-term, sustainable shareholder value than short-term news.  If you’re not a short-term trader, standing back and taking the long-term view is important for deciding where to invest your hard-earned savings.

The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) has over 17,000 members that serve on Boards of publicly traded, for-profit private and non-profit organizations.  It is the world’s leading association studying regulations and how they are applied, and recommending best practices for Boards of Directors to apply corporate governance.

At their annual meeting this week NACD released its newest report The Board and Long-Term Value Creation created by its Blue Ribbon Commission of leading Directors.  Succinctly, the report calls on all Boards to help management overcome myopia around short-term results, and increase attention on creating long-term value.

Board LeadershipMost metrics used in business are very short-term, including sales, volume, costs and margin.  The report points out that at most companies long-term compensation is defined as 3 years or less — shorter than most new product development programs or even new branding or image creation programs.  Unfortunately, this can lead to spending too much time on tactics and machinations to drive short-term reporting, hoping that the long-term will simply take care of itself.

“Instead of viewing short-term results and long-term strategy as mutually exclusive, boards and executives should view them in terms of degrees of alignment,” said Karen Horn, co-chair of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission; vice chair of the NACD board; and director of Eli Lilly & Co., Norfolk Southern Corp., Simon Property Group, and T. Rowe Price Mutual Funds. “It should be possible to draw a clear line from the company’s day-to-day activities to its long-term objectives.”

“Board agendas need to accommodate sufficient time for substantive discussions about long-term opportunities and risks, rather than being dominated by backward-looking reviews of past performance,” said Bill McCracken, co-chair of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission, former CEO of CA Technologies, and director of MDU Resources and NACD.

The report notes that short-term pressures on management are greater than ever.  But Boards can take measures to bring the focus back on long-term value creation by actively engaging in various activities, such as:

  • developing long-term strategy,
  • reviewing capital allocation process and where money is invested,
  • careful consideration of management incentives including compensation,
  • applying oversight to corporate culture,
  • participating in communications with analysts, investors, and other constituencies.
“The Commission believes that directors need to be active students of the business, seeking out information from multiple sources in preparation for boardroom discussions rather than being passive recipients of data from management. And rather than being dominated by retrospective analysis of past performance, board agendas should provide adequate time for substantive discussion of long-term strategic choices, risks, and opportunities.”
From great minds come great reads.  NACD membership is growing at double digit rates, at a time when many associations struggle to maintain membership.  As regulations on officers and directors grow, NACD’s active development of programs and reports providing guidance to Directors on how they can meet ever increasing demands to provide effective, active governance is providing great value to those leading America’s organizations. This Blue Ribbon Commission report is another example of forward-thinking guidance that all corporate directors and officers (and investors) should read.

Baffle ’em with Bulls**t – Forget Kraft

"If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance – Baffle 'em with Bulls**t" – W. C. Fields

Just 18 months ago Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld was working very hard to convince investors she needed to grow Kraft with a $19B acquisition of Cadbury.  This was after her expensive acquisition of Lu Biscuits from Danone. Part of her justification for the massive expenditure was an out-of-date industrial manufacturing adage, "Scale is a source of great competitive advantage. " How these acquisitions provided scale advantage was never explained.

Now she wants to convince investors Kraft needs to be split into two companies, saying the acquisition trail has left her with "different portfolios."  (Quotes from the Wall Street Journal, "Activists Pressed for Kraft Spinoff") For some reason, scale is now less important than portfolio focus.  And the scale advantages that justified the acquisition premiums are now – unimportant?

If Ms. Rosenfeld was a politician, she might be accused of being a "flip-flopper." Remember John Kerry?

Ms. Rosenfeld would like to break Kraft into 2 parts.  Some brands would be in a new "grocery," or "domestic" business (Oscar Mayer, Cool Whip, Maxwell House, Jell-O, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Kool Aid, Miracle Whip is a partial list.)  The rest of the company would be a "snack" or "international" business.  Although the latter would still include the North American snacks and confectionary brands.  (More detail in the Wall Street Journal "Kraft: Breaking Down the Breakup.")

We will ignore the obvious questions about why the acquisitions if your strategy was to split up the company.  Instead, looking forward, the critical questions to have answered would be "How will this break-up help Kraft grow? And what is the benefit for investors, employees and shareholders of this massive, and costly, change?" 

Kraft was split off from Altria at the end of 2006, with Ms. Rosenfeld at the helm.  At its rebirth, Kraft became a Dow Jones Industrial member.  Rich in revenues and resources, at the time, Kraft was valued at about $35/share.  Now, 5 years and all the M&A machinations later, Kraft is valued (with optimism about the breakup value) at about $35/share!  Between the two dates the company's value was almost always lower.  So investors have gained nothing for their 5 years of waiting for Ms. Rosenfeld to "transform" Kraft.

The big winners at Kraft have been their investment bankers.  They received enormous multi-million dollar fees for helping Ms. Rosenfeld buy and sell businesses.  And they will receive massive additional fees if the company is split in two.  In fact, given her focus on M&A as opposed to actually growing Kraft, one could well assess Ms. Rosenfeld's tenure as more investment banker than Chief Executive Officer.  She didn't really do anything to improve Kraft.  She just moved around the pieces, and swapped some.

Kraft has had no growth, other than from the expensive purchased acquisition revenues.  Despite its massive $50B revenue stream, what new innovation – what exciting new product – can you recall Kraft introducing?  Go ahead, take your time.  We can wait. 

What's that – you can't think of any.  Nor can anybody else. 

In Kraft's historical businesses, volume declined 1.5% over the last couple of years.  The company has been shrinking.  According to Crain's Chicago Business in "Kraft's Rosenfeld's About Face Spurred by Dwindling Options," the only reason revenues grew in the base business was due to rising commodity prices, which were passed along, with a premium added, in retail price increases to consumers!  A business doesn't have a sparkling future when it keeps selling less, and raising prices, on products that consumers largely could care less about. 

When was the last time you asked for a Velveeta sandwich?  Interestly, Tang now seems to have outlived even NASA and the American space program.  Have you enjoyed that sugar-laden breakfast delight lately?  Or when did you last look for that special opportunity to use artificial ice-cream (Cool Whip) in your desert? tried valiantly to make the case "The Kraft Foods Split is the Grand Finale of an Epic Transformation." But as the author takes readers through the myriad re-organizations, in the end we realize that all these changes did nothing to actually improve the business – and managed to tick off Kraft's largest investor, Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway, who has been selling shares!

The argument that Kraft has 2 portfolios as a justification for splitting the company makes no sense.  Every investor is taught to have a wide portfolio in order to maximize returns at lowest risk.  That Kraft has multiple product lines is a benefit to investors, not a negative! 

Unless the leaders have no idea how to use the resources from these businesses to innovate, and bring out new products building on market trends and creating growth!  And that's the one thing most lacking at Kraft.  It's not a portfolio issue – it's a complete lack of innovation issue! As Burt Flickingerof Strategic Resources Group pointed out, Kraft has been losing .5% to 1% market share every year for the last decade in its "core" business, and he understatedly commente that Kraft has "very little innovation."

Markets have shifted dramatically the last 5 years, and food is no exception.  People want fewer carbs, and fewer fats.  They want easily prepared foods, but without additives like sugar (or high fructose corn syrup,) salt and oil that have negative long-term health implications for blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.  Also, they don't want hidden calories that make ease of preparation a trade-off with their wastelines!  Further, most families have changed from the traditional 3 times per day standard meals to more grazing habits, and from large portions to smaller portions with greater variety. 

But Kraft addressed none of these shifts with new products.  Instead, it kept pouring advertising dollars into the traditional foodstuffs, even as these were finding less and less fit with 2011 dietary needs – or consumer interest! When the most exciting thing anyone can say about a Kraft launch the last 5 years was the re-orientation of the Triscuit line (did you catch that, or did you somehow miss it?) then it's pretty clear innovation has been on the back burner.  Or maybe stuck in the shelf with the Cheez Whiz.

It is clear that Ms. Rosenfeld offered no brilliance as Kraft's leader.  Uninspiring to consumers, investors and employees.  She made very expensive acquisitions to create the illusion of revenue growth; financial machinations that hid declines in the traditional business which suffered from no innovation investment. After all that money was thrown around, and facing very little prospect of any growth, it was time for the biggest baffling bulls**t of all – split the company up so nobody can trace the value destruction!

Andrew Lazar at Barclay's Capital Plc gave a pretty good insight in another Crain's Chicago Business article ("Kraft Jettisons U. S. Brands so Global Snack Biz Can Fly Higher.")  He said Kraft (aka Ms. Rosenfeld) is "Taking action before it ever has to potentially disappoint investors in a struggle to reach overly optimistic sales growth targets."

Yes, I think Mr. Fields had it pretty right when it comes to describing the leadership of Ms. Rosenfeld and her team at Kraft.  They have been unable to dazzle us with any brilliance.  The question is whether we'll be foolish enough to let them baffle us with their ongoing bulls**t.   What Kraft needs is not a break-up.  What Kraft needs is new leadership that understands how to move beyond the past, tie investments to market needs, and start Kraft growing again!! 

This week most people don't really care about Kraft.  After the U.S. debt ceiling "crisis," followed by the Friday night announcement of the U.S. debt downgrade, the news has been dominated by mostly economic, rather than company, items.  The collapse of the DJIA has been a lot more important than a non-value-adding split-up of a single component.  And that is unfortunate, because the leadership of Kraft have been playing chess games with company pieces, rather than actually doing what it takes to help a company grow.  With the right leadership, Kraft could be creating the jobs everyone so desperately wants.

The End of Management – Wall Street Journal


  • The Wall Street Journal is calling for a dramatic shift in how business is managed
  • Most corporations are designed for the industrial age, and thus not well suited for today’s competition
  • Change is happening more quickly, and organizations must become more agile
  • CEOs today are concerned about dealing with rapid, chronic change – and obsolescence
  • Resource deployment, from financial to people, must be tied more closely to market needs and not defending historical strengths

A FANTASTIC article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The End of Management” by Alan Murray, If you have time, I encourage you to click the link and read the entire thing.  Below are some insightful quotes from the article I hope you enjoy as much as I did:

  • Corporations, whose leaders portray themselves as champions of the free
    market, were in fact created to circumvent that market. They were an
    answer to the challenge of organizing thousands of people in different
    places and with different skills to perform large and complex tasks,
    like building automobiles or providing nationwide telephone service.
  • the managed corporation—an answer to the central problem of the industrial age.
  • Corporations are bureaucracies and managers are bureaucrats. Their
    fundamental tendency is toward self-perpetuation… They were designed and tasked, not with
    reinforcing market forces, but with supplanting and even resisting the
  • it took radio 38 years and television 13 years to reach audiences of 50
    million people, while it took the Internet only four years, the iPod
    three years and Facebook two years to do the same.
  • It’s no surprise that
    fewer than 100 of the companies in the S&P 500 stock index were
    around when that index started in 1957.
  • When I asked members of The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council… to name the most influential business book they had read,
    many cited Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” That book
    documents how market-leading companies have missed game-changing
    transformations in industry after industry
  • They allocated capital to the innovations that promised the largest
    returns. And in the process, they missed disruptive innovations that
    opened up new customers and markets for lower-margin, blockbuster
  • the ability of human beings on different continents and with vastly
    different skills and interests to work together and coordinate complex
    tasks has taken quantum leaps. Complicated enterprises, like maintaining
    Wikipedia or building a Linux operating system, now can be accomplished
    with little or no corporate management structure at all.
  • the trends here are big and undeniable. Change is rapidly accelerating.
    Transaction costs are rapidly diminishing. And as a result, everything
    we learned in the last century about managing large corporations is in
    need of a serious rethink. We have both a need [for]… a new science of
    management, that can deal with the breakneck realities of 21st century
  • The new model will have to be more like the marketplace, and less like
    corporations of the past. It will need to be flexible, agile, able to
    quickly adjust to market developments, and ruthless in reallocating
    resources to new opportunities.
  • big companies… failed, not…
    because they didn’t see the coming innovations, but because they failed
    to adequately invest in those innovations
    . To avoid this problem, the
    people who control large pools of capital need to act more like venture
    capitalists, and less like corporate finance departments… make lots of bets, not just a few big ones, and… be willing
    to cut their losses.
  • have to push power and decision-making down the organization as much as
    possible, rather than leave it concentrated at the top. Traditional
    bureaucratic structures will have to be replaced with something more
    like ad-hoc teams of peers, who come together to tackle individual
    projects, and then disband
  • New mechanisms will have to be created for harnessing the “wisdom of
    crowds.” Feedback loops will need to be built that allow products and
    services to constantly evolve in response to new information. Change,
    innovation, adaptability, all have to become orders of the day.

Well said.  Traditional management best practices were designed for the industrial age.  For bringing people together to efficiently build planes, trains and automobiles.  This is now the information age.  Organizations must be more agile, more flexible, and tightly aligned with market needs – while eschewing focus on “core” capabilities. 

Companies must understand Lock-in, and how to manage it.  Instead of planning for yesterday to continue, we must develop future scenarios and prepare for different likely outcomes.  We have to understand competitors, and how quickly they can move to rob us of sales and profits.  We have to be willing to disrupt our patterns of behavior, and our markets, in order to drive for higher value creation.  And we must understand that constantly creating and implementing White Space teams that are focused on new opportunities is a key to long-term success.

With an endorsement for change from nothing less than the stodgy Wall Street Journal, perhaps more leaders and managers will begin moving forward, implementing The Phoenix Principle, so they can recapture a growth agenda and rebuild profitability.

Defend & Extend leads to mistakes and missed opportunities – Microsoft

This week Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer said the company would get out a tablet soon, and that it would be a big success. Do you believe him? You have good reason to be doubtful.  When it comes to new products, Microsoft has been a big dud under his leadership.  But I’m not the only one complaining. ran an article quoting some very well respected sources who are very, very skeptical. Below is part of the article.  You can read the whole thing here:

“Of course that’s often the case with Microsoft,” notes Digital Daily.
“The problem is, it doesn’t always manage to do things really right.
Certainly, it didn’t manage it with Windows Vista. Or Windows Mobile. Or
Zune. Or, more recently, Kin.
Who’s to say this time will be any

“As it stands now, Microsoft’s lack of details on
the upcoming Windows tablets is not encouraging,
despite Ballmer’s
promises,” concludes PCWorld.

Seemingly overwhelmed by the rapid innovation and successes of rivals like Apple, Google, and even Facebook, Fortune
calls Ballmer “a train wreck,”
and “a salesman whose only answer to
technological change seems to be the operating system he inherited from
Bill Gates.”

Thinking of Microsoft as an “innovator,”
however, will leave you disappointed every time, Jefferies analyst
Katherine Egbert wrote in a note Friday morning. “If you stop thinking
of Microsoft as an innovator and start thinking of them as a fast, low
cost, mass market follower, you’ll stop being disappointed in their
inability to divine new markets and realize they are staring at some of
their largest growth opportunities ever.”

Microsoft is too focused on its core business to do new things correctly.  Long ago Mr. Ballmer took a Defend & Extend approach to the business.  The company doesn’t do much scenario planning to determine how markets can be disrupted – in fact they hope the opposite.  They do very little competitor analysis, because they view themselves as market dominant so beyond having to study competitors.  They ignore fringe competitors – including upstarts like Apple and Google.  Internal disruptions are verboten, and politics abound.  And there is no white space where teams can violate old lock-ins to develop a new success formula that will compete better with the likes of Apple, Google and Cisco.

Focusing on your core can get any business in trouble (read Forbes article “Stop Focusing on Your Core Business” here).  Even one with a near monopoly.  Over time, all markets shift.  When they do, the least prepared are the ones who think they “dominate” their industry.  Maybe Mr. Ballmer should have lunch with Mr. Wagoner of GM to learn what happens when you take your industry position for granted.

Trying new things to grow can be cheap and effective – Motel 6 and rock bands

Brilliant.  A word we rarely use in the USA, the British will hear of a good idea and respond "brilliant."  When I saw "Motel 6 Offers Free Rooms to 3 Rock Bands" in USAToday I simply thought "brilliant."

Do you remember the old Motel 6 ads?  "We'll keep the Light on For You"  was how Tom Bodett, a National Public Service radio announcer from Alaska enticed people.  Using a very rural, almost corny  approach to undersell the rooms, this tied to 1950ish thoughts about visiting distant relatives.  It wasn't a bad ad.  And it probably worked really well (I still remember the ads) for years after release in 1986.  But that tone doesn't have much appeal to the younger generation.  29 years after being launched, the under 35 crowd doesn't remember this ad – nor did they grow up in a rural America – nor do they know the origins of looking for reliable, clean motels on a cross-country trip during the early days of interstate highways.  And they simply don't care.  That ad program ran its course, to be polite.  Motel 6 might be a good product, but it was slipping away into the oblivion of brands you forget – like Howard Johnson's.  Or Ovaltine.

Hand it to management of Motel 6 and parent Accor, they Disrupted the old approach by offering free rooms to rock bands.  If you've read my previous posts on the music business you know that musicians end up covering their own cost for travel – and as the USAToday article points out, many band members spend most nights sleeping in the van or on the floor of someone's  house.  It's definitely not free booze and hooliganism in a 5-star property.  So these band members are quite pleased to have someone offer them free rooms – clean, tidy and comfortable.

Now those band members can reach out to their followers via Twitter and Facebook with positive comments and thanks for these rooms.  A medium where you can't buy ads, but where reputations can be created and expanded.  Not only promoting Motel 6, but promoting to an audience the company wasn't even reaching before.  And catching one of the most highly prized, and valued, demographics in the ad business – age 24 to 34.  Who knows how long these young folks might remain customers, after they discover the wonders of clean, affordable lodging.

Anybody can do what Motel 6 just did to help re-invigorate your business.  It would have been very easy for sleepy Motel 6 brand to have remained where it was, doing what it always did.  And continue losing mind-share, as well as profitability.  But this move, at an amazingly low cost (literally, advertising in exchange for product, is an incredible deal – and a lot cheaper than those old radio ads), will revive the brand among a new group of customers – and a group that is not well served by the hotel industry.  It's hard to find anything in this move that doesn't come off like a big win for everybody!

Too big to fail? Overcoming size disadvantages – JPMorgan Chase

"The Need for Failure" is a recent Forbes article on why it is bad – really bad – to prop up failing institutions. The author is an esteemed economics professor at NYU. He says "too big to fail is dangerous.  It suggests there is an insurance policy that says, no matter how risky your behavior, we will make sure you stay in business."  Rightly said, only it creates a conundrumLarge organizations are not known for taking risky actions.  Large organizations are known primarily for lethargic decision-making which weeds out all forms of risk – right down to how people dress and what they can say in the office.  When you think of a big bank, like Bank of America or Citibank, you don't think of risk You think just the opposite.  Of risk aversion so great they cannot do anything new or different.

What I'd add to the good professor's article is recognition that large organizations stumble into risk they don't recognize, by trying to do more of the same when that behavior becomes risky due to market changes.  My dad said that 100 years ago when my grandfather was first given pills by a doctor he decided to take the whole bottle at once.  His logic was "if one pill will help me, I might as well take the whole lot and get better fast."  Clearly, an example where doing more of the same was not a good idea.  Then there was the boy who loved jumping off the railroad bridge into the river.  He did it all the time, year after year.  Then one month there was a draught, the river level fell while he was busy at school, and when he next jumped off the bridge he broke his leg.  He did what he always did, but the environmental change suddenly made his previous behavior very risky.

Big corporations behave this way.  They build Lock-ins around everything they do.  They use hierarchy, cultural norm enforcement, sacred cows, rigid decision-making systems, narrow strategy processes, consistency in hiring practices, inflexible IT systems, knowledge silos and dependence on large investments to make sure the organization cannot flex.  The intent of these Lock-ins is to make sure that historical decisions are replicated, to make sure past behaviors are repeated again and again with the expectation that those behaviors will consistently produce the same returns.

But when the market shifts these Lock-ins create risk that is unseen.  Bankers had built systems for generating their own loans, and acquiring loans from others, that were designed to keep growing.  They designed various derivative products as their own form of insurance on their assets.  But what they did not recognize was that pushing forward in highly unregulated product markets, as the quality of debtors declined, created unexpected risk.  In other words, doing more of the same did not reduce risk – it increased the risk!   Because the company is designed to undertake these behaviors, there is no one who can recognize that the risk is growing.  There is no one who challenges whether doing more of the same is risky – only those who would challenge making a change by saying change is risky! 

Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG all created a much higher risk than they ever anticipated.  And they never saw it.  Because they were doing what they always did – and expecting the results would take care of themselves.  They were measuring their own behaviors, not the behavior of the market.  And thus they missed recognizing that the market had moved – and thus doing more of the same was inherently risky. 

(The same is true of GM, for example.  GM kept doing what it always did, refusing to see  the risk it incurred by ignoring market shifts brought on by changing customer behaviors, rising energy costs and offshore competitors.)

That's why big company CEOs feel OK about asking for a bail-out.  To them, they did not fail.  They did not take risk.  They did what they had always done – and something went wrong "out there".  Something went wrong "in the market".  Not in their company.  They need protection from the marketplace. 

Of course, this is just the opposite of what free markets are all about.  Free markets are intended to allow changes to develop, forcing competitors to adapt to market shifts or fail.  But those who run (or ran) our big banks, and many of our big industrial companies, haven't see it that way.  They believe their size means they are the market – so they want regulators to change the market back.  Back to where they can make money again.

So how is this to to be avoided?  It starts by having leaders who can recognize market shifts, and recognize the need for change.  In an companion Forbes article "Jamie Dimon's Straight Talk Has A Good Ring" the author takes time to review J.P. Morgan Chase's Chairman's letter to shareholders regarding 2008.  In the letter, surprisingly for a big organization, the JPMC Chairman points out market shifts, and then points out that his organization made mistakes by not reacting fast enough – for example by changing practices on acquiring mortgages from independent brokers.  He goes no to point out that several changes have happened, and will continue happening, at JPMC to deal with market shifts.  And he even comments on future scenarios which he hopes will help protect investors from the hidden risk of companies that take actions based on history.

Mr. Dimon's actions demonstrate a willingness to implement The Phoenix Principle.  For those who don't know him, Mr. Dimon has long been one of the more controversial figures in banking.  He is well known for exhibiting highly Disruptive behavior, yet he has found his way up the corporate ranks of the traditional banking industry.  Now he is not being shy about Disrupting his own bank – JPMC. 

  1. His discussion of future scenarios clearly points to expected changes in the market, from competitor shifts, economic shifts and regulatory shifts which his bank must address.
  2. He sees competitors changing, and the need for JPMC to compete differently with different sorts of institutions under different regulations.  Mr. Dimon clearly has his eyes on competitors, and he intends for JPMC to grow as a result of the market shift, not merely "hang on."
  3. He is espousing Disruptions for his company, the industry and the regulatory environment.  By going public with his views, excoriating insurance regulators as well as unregulated hedge funds,  he intends for his employees and investors to think hard about what caused past problems and how important it is to change.
  4. He keeps trying new and different things to improve growth and performance at the company.  It's not merely "more of the same, but hopefully cheaper."  He is proposing new approaches for lending as well as investing – and for significant changes in regulations now that banking is global.

Very few leaders recognize the risk from doing more of the same.  Leaders often feel it is conservative to not change course.  But, when markets shift, not changing course introduces dramatic risk.  People just don't perceive it.  Because they are looking at the past, not at the future.  They are measuring risk based upon what they know – what they've failed to take into account.  And the only way to overcome this problem is to spend a lot more time on market scenarios, competitor analysis and using Disruptions to keep the organization vital and connected with the market using White Space projects.

Now is the time for transformation says HBS prof – GM, newspapers, pharma

Readers of this blog know I've been very pessimistic about the future of GM for well over 2 years.  And I've long extolled the need to change top management.  I'm passing along some quotes from Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter at the Harvard Business School in "Why Rick Wagoner Had to Go" at Harvard Business School publishing's web site.

"It was only a matter of time before GM's Rick Wagoner would have to go, and the board with him.  I am surprised he lasted this long, a fact that also shows weakness on the board side…. In this tough economic environmnet, if you wait too long to envision and implement transformational changes you are out of the game.  That holds for every industry under attack because of obsolete business models, including newspapers and big pharma…. New leaders at the top can bring a novel perspective, unburdened by the need to justify strategies of the past, and not stuck in a narrow way of thinking…. Companies finding themselves in a downward spiral need fresh views, not just redoubled efforts to do the same thing while waiting for the recession to end….. Now is the time for every company to do what GM failed to do fast enough and imaginatively enough: rethink everything.  What…. takes you into the future, and what is just legacy, continued out of sentiment?"

Thanks Professor Kantor, I agree completely.  GM was stuck Defending & Extending its old Success Formula, and as a result performance deteriorated to the point of failure.  And it's not just GM.  As the good professor points out, media companies that remain tied to newspapes have the same problem.  Today the Sun Times Group, publisher of the Chicago Sun Times declared bankruptcy ("Sun Times Files for Bankruptcy"  There is no longer a major newspaper in Chicago that is not bankrupt.  And this blog has covered how big pharma has stayed too long at the trough of old inventions, missing the move to biologics.

Things are bad.  "All 50 states in recession for first time since the 1970s" is one of two headlines, "Global Economy to Shrink in 2009, World Bank Says."  The downturn is expected to be 1.7% globally, a disaster for small and emerging economies.  This is killing global trade (down 6.1%) and whipsawing countries like Russia – moving from growth last year of over 6% to a decline this year of over 4%!  This is the stuff that has led to revolutions!

The only way out of this situation is for organizations to listen to the good professor, and not try to do more of the same.  Markets have shifted – permanentlyManagement actions that are designed to weather short-term downturns, mostly by cost-cutting and conserving resources, don't work when markets shift.  Instead, businesses have to develop new Success Formulas that get them out of the Whirlpool's spiral and into the Rapids of Growth.  To do this requires planning based upon future senarios, not what worked before.  Obsessing about competitors globally to develop new solutions.  Not fearing, but rather embracing Disruptions that allow for trying new things in White Space where you have permission and resources to really develop new solutions.  These 4 steps can turn around any organization – if you don't wait too long.

It Takes White Space to Transition – Tribune Corporation and

"This is the future of media.  Whether in print, over the air or online — the delivery mechanism isn't as important as the unique, rich nature of the content provided."  That's what the Tribune Corporation's COO, Randy Michaels, said in "Tribune Merges Conn. paper, stations" as reported on Crain's  After filing bankruptcy, and seeing both newspaper subscribers and advertisers hacked away dramatically, Tribune is merging together all operations – newspaper and 2 TV stations – in Hartford, CT.  They are cutting costs again.

We can hope Mr. Michaels means what he says, but excuse me if I'm doubtful.  Despite the rapid acceleration of on-line news readership, and the fact that in most major markets Tribune has one or more TV stations as well as a newspaper, Tribune has never consolidated it's news operations or its advertising sales force.  This is sort of remarkable.  Going back at least 5 years, it made sense when gathering the news, or talking to an advertiser, to discuss how you could maximize his value for ad money spent.  That meant a sharp company would have laid out programs showing how they could give advertisers access to eyeballs from all sources.  But instead, at Tribune each station had its own salesforce, each newspaper, and each on-line edition of the newspaper.  There was little effort to give the customer a good value for his spend – and no effort to discuss how he could transfer dollars between media to be a big winner.  Even though Tribune was an early investor in the internet, it has not learned from its investment and migrated to a new Success Formula.

At a time when advertisers are unclear about how to justify their spending, a sharp media company would be explaining how many eyeballs in are in each format, the demographic profiles and the cost to reach those eyeballs.  A company that really is "media independent" would have a big advantage over one trying to sell only the legacy products, because it isn't learning from the marketplace how to offer the best product at the best price and make a profit.

And Tribune had better move quicklyArianna Huffington has announced the launch of the "Huffington Post Investigative Fund," as announced on the website  This is her effort to create a pool of investigative journalists for on-line sites who will do the kind of work we historically expected newspapers to do.  She is throwing in $1.75million, and asking others to put up additional money.  Thus giving this White Space project not only permission to figure out a "new age" model for investigative reporting, but hopefully the resources with which to experiment and learnWhether this project will succeed or not is unclear, but that it is intended to make on-line news (and her website) more powerful and successful is clear.  With each step like this, and this one she took all over the airwaves Monday discussing on multiple television stations, the case against quality of on-line news declines – and increases the on-line competition for eyeballs with television, radio and newspaper formats.

What we'd like to see is an announcement that the Tribune project in Hartford is a White Space project intended to figure out the Success Formula for future media.  As we come ever closer to the "Max Headroom" world, depicted in the 1980s of a future where there is 24×7 news around all of us all the time, what no one knows for sure is how the profit model will work.  Those who experiment first, and learn the fastest, will be in a strong position to be the leader

Unfortunately, the Tribune announcement does not look like White Space.  The Tribune leadership has still not Disrupted its grip on the old Success Formula.  The project in Hartford looks more like a cost-saving effort, trying to defend the old newspaper, than a learning proposition.  The project seems to lack the permission to do whatever is necessary to succeed (like perhaps stop printing), and it has no resources coming its way with which to experiment as it keeps trying to maintain all 3 of the legacy business units.  Rather than a learning environment, this looks more like an effort to save 3 troubled businesses by cost saving - a Defend practice that doesn't work when markets shift and new competitors are trying all kinds of new things.

Newspaper weaknesses – Quotes for NYT, Washington Post, LATimes, Chicago Tribune

"If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed."  — Mark Twain

"All I know is what I read in the newspaper.  That makes me the most ignorant man alive."   —- Will Rogers

What both these great writers understood was that when you get most of your news from one source, you get only what that source chooses to tell you, and only a single interpretation of the news.  Since newspapers began there has been controversy about bias in news reporting.  Many famous newspapers were considered "conservative" or "liberal" based upon the political opinions of the owners.  The reality is that when a newspaper reporter tells you a story, what you read – down to the word choices - is affected by the opinions and feelings of the author, as well as those of the editor and perhaps even the publisher. 

The great breakthrough of the internet is you aren't restricted to a single (or possibly) two sources.  You can find articles about anything from a political speech to an automobile accident published by 5, 10 maybe hundreds or thousands of sources.  And for many news items the internet provides you not only multiple opportunities to read how the "facts" are told, but you can find multiple articles that interpret those facts.  This plethora of coverage means that internet readers have the opportunity to be as selective, or as broad, as they choose.  And it means that the ability of publishers to "control the direction" of a story is dramatically diminished.  Readers, by looking across multiple sources, can determine as a group which "facts" they find accurate, and which "interpretation" they find most genuine.  Because of the internet, news coverage is "democratized" in a way that has never before been possible.

Newspapers provided a method of informing the public for a very, very long time.  But they have an internal weakness they cannot overcome – the printing means that only one version of a story is told and it can only be economically told once per day.  The distribution method makes newspapers an "event" that occurs at "deadline", and the cost is high enough that there's only enough advertising to support the printing and distribution of one newspapers in most markets.  When you get down to the printing – the "paper" in "newspaper" – it has limits that create a weakness.

The internet is disruptive because it overcomes the limitations of printing.  It is available 24×7 not just to read, but to be updated and current with the latest information.  A person anywhere can read input from multiple sources.  The internet makes up-to-the-minute news coverage of everything available to people in rural, remote locations as quickly as it does those "on the scene", thus opening an interest in world or very local events to everyone on the planet, regardless of location.  And this means this "no cost distribution" (not no cost of fact acquistion, or interpretation, or writing – just distribution) allows the internet to do what economist Joseph Schumpeter called "creatively destroy" the old value in newspapers. 

Those who bemoan the loss of newspapers need to spend more time on the internet.  There are so many sources for so much news that we are today the best informed society in the history of mankind.  The financial problems at newspaper publishing have not diminished the quantity or quality of news coverage.  Those are higher than ever.  And the businesses that jump into this market, by developing networks to access the most/best news and interpretation at the lowest cost – while delivering it in a format that is easy for readers to find and absorb – will be successful.  And it will be harder than ever for those trying to create the news (such as politicians and political pundits) to decry "bias" in a world where all opinions are available to everyone.

Shifting Banking Market Requires New Strategy – JPMC, BofA, Citi, etc.

Clayton Christensen is a Harvard Business School professor who first described in detail how "disruptive" innovations shift markets, allowing upstart competitors to overtake existing companies that appear invulnerable.  I just found a 4 minute video clip "Clay Christensen's Advice for Jamie Dimon" at  In this clip the famous professor tells the story about how the big "banks" allowed themselves to be overtaken by "non-banks" – and then he offers advice on what the big banks should do (Jamie Dimon is the Chairman and CEO of J.P.MorganChase, and an HBS alumni.)

Dr. Christensen lays out succinctly how banks relied on loan officers to find good loan candidates, and make good loans.  But increasingly, borrowers were classified by a computer program, not by loan officers.  Once the qualification process was turned into a computer-based Q&A, anybody with money could get into the lending business – whether for credit cards, or car loans, or mortgages, or small business loans, or commercial loans.  Losing control of each of these lower-end markets, the bankers had to bid up their willingness to take on more risk to remain in business while also chasing fewer and fewer high-quality borrowers.  The result was greater risk being taken by banks to compete with non-banks (like GMAC, GE Credit, Discover Card, etc.)  What should they do?  Dr. Christensen says go buy an Indian or Chinese phone company!!!

Hand it to Dr. Christensen to make the quick and cogent case for how Lock-in by the banks got them into so much trouble.  By trying to do more of the same in the face of a radically shifting market (people going to non-banks for loans and to make deposits), they found themselves taking on considerably more risk than they originally intended.  Rather than finding businesses with good rates of return, they kept taking on slightly more risk in the business they knew.  They favored "the devil you know" over the "the devil you don't know."  In reality, they were taking on considerably more risk than if they had diversified into other businesses that were on far less shaky ground than unbacked mortgages

This is Strategic Bias.  We all like to remain "close to core" when investing resources.  So we keep taking on more and more risk to remain in our "core" — and for little reason other than it's the market and business we know.  Because we know the business, we convince ourselves it's not as risky as doing something else.  In truth, markets determine risk – not us.  Because we assess risk from our personal perspective, we keep convincing ourselves to do more of what we've done — even when the marketplace makes the risk of doing what we've done incredibly risky —- like happened to Citbank, Bank of America and a host of other banks.

And in great form, the professor offers a solution almost nobody would consider.   His argument is that (1) these banks need to go where demand is great, go to new and growing markets, not old markets, and loan demand cannot be greater than in emerging markets. (2) To succeed in the future (not the past) banks have to learn to compete in emerging markets because of growth and because so many winning competitors are already there, and (3) you want to enter businesses that are growing, not what necessarily your traditional business or what you are used to doing.  He points out that the traditional "banking" infrastructure is nascent in emerging markets, and well may not develop as it did in the western world.  But everyone in these places has phones, so phones are becoming the tool for transactions and the handling of money.  When people start doing everything on their phone (remember the rapidly escalating capabilities of phones – like the iPhone and Pre) it may well be that the "phone company" becomes more of a bank than a bank!!

Who knows if Clayton is right about the Indian phone company?  But his point that you have to consider competitors you never thought about before is spot on.  When markets shift they don't return to old ways.  It's all about the future, and banking has changed, so don't expect it to return to old methods.  Secondly, you have to be willing to Disrupt old Lock-ins about your business.  If the "loaning" of money is now automated, banking becomes about transaction management – not making loans.  You have to consider entirely different ways of competing, and that means Disrupting your Lock-ins so you can consider new ways of competing.  Thirdly, you don't just sit and wait to see what happens.  Get out there and participate!  Open White Space projects in which you experiment and LEARN what works.  You can't develop a new Success Formula by thinking about it, you have to DO IT in the marketplace.

Big American banks have tilted on the edge of failure.  More will likely fail – although we don't yet know which the regulators will put under or keep afloat.  What we can be sure of is that the market conditions that put them on the edge will not revert.  To be successful in the future these organizations have to change.  Probably radically so.  So if they want to use the TARP money effectively, they had better take action quickly to begin experimenting in new markets with new solutions.

Gotta hand it to Professor Clayton Christensen, he's made a huge improvement in the way we think about innovation and strategy the last few years.  His ideas on banking are well worth consideration by the CEOs trying to bring their shareholders, employees and customers back from brink.